Elderly woman in jail 42 days

County agency seeks custody of troubled 88-year-old detainee

April 05, 2001|By Tim Craig | Tim Craig,SUN STAFF

An 88-year-old Parkville woman has been held at the Baltimore County Detention Center for 42 days while awaiting a hearing on a request by a county agency that it be appointed her guardian.

Leocadia Thomas has been in jail since she was arrested on a warrant Feb. 22 for failing to appear at a hearing on charges related to a dispute at her home in the 8800 block of Victory Ave.

Thomas suffers from dementia - a possible symptom of Alzheimer's disease. A judge and her lawyer say she is better off in jail until a hearing can be held on the guardianship petition. The hearing was scheduled for Tuesday, but was postponed until later this month at the request of the lawyer.

"What I did is go along with what everyone wanted," said District Court Judge Norman Stone, explaining why he did not order Thomas released. "That is, have her at some place until guardianship proceedings are finished."

But Lisa Brakebill of the Central Maryland chapter of the Alzheimer's Association warns it is a mistake to leave Thomas in the detention center. "An environment like a jail can be very disruptive because of the noise and darkness," Brakebill said. "Being in jail can actually create more problems."

Thomas spent 15 days in the detention center in November after she and her daughter were charged with assaulting a police officer and resisting arrest.

The two were arrested Nov. 16 after struggling with two Baltimore County officers who were attempting to prevent them from blocking traffic on their street, police said. Karen Thomas was released the next day after posting a $3,000 bond. She refused to post bail for her mother.

A District Court judge set Leocadia Thomas free on her own recognizance Dec. 1 after a nephew agreed to take care of her. But she "promptly told her nephew to leave" when she arrived home, according to court documents.

For years, Leocadia Thomas has used brooms or sticks to guard the state road in front of her home, chasing off bicyclists, joggers and motorists on the dead-end street, according to police.

A bench warrant was issued for Thomas on Feb. 20 after she failed to show up for court, and she was arrested two days later. Bail has been set at $500.

The county Department of Adult Protective Services filed for guardianship on Feb. 13 because of her mental condition. A physician and psychologist who evaluated Thomas said she suffers from dementia - with short- and long-term memory loss - "poor hygiene [and] is very thin," according to documents.

A social worker at the detention center overheard Karen Thomas say last year that she wanted "her mother to die in jail," according to court documents.

"I think what we are all looking for is the ability to put her someplace other than home and someplace other than jail," said Jason League, an assistant state's attorney. "There is no mechanism in place to shelter a senior citizen like we do juveniles absent an evaluation that finds her incompetent."

Karen Thomas declined to comment, but has hired Towson attorney David Henninger to represent her mother. Henninger says that Leocadia Thomas should remain in jail until the hearing because he fears she would get in more trouble at home. Henninger opposes the county's guardianship petition.

Thomas might be one of the oldest persons ever at the Detention Center. "I have been a correction administrator for over 20 years and I have not had anyone older," said James O'Neill, deputy administrator for the Bureau of Corrections.

O'Neill said Thomas is in the women's detention center with 20 other female inmates with medical problems, and is "away from the general population."

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